Viewing Coho Close to Home

For most people, “salmon” is an expensive, unnaturally pink piece of fish at the grocery store. It is a potential meal, detached from its context by thousands of miles. Even those of us who are lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest often have only a distant relationship to these iconic fish. However, there are places where we can bridge the gap and connect with an elusive and integral part of our history, culture, cuisine, and economy.

Small CohoJust over an hour from Portland, and a mere 30 minutes from the fast-growing cities of Beaverton and Hillsboro, one can sit on an isolated stream bank and share hours with spawning coho salmon. For the uninitiated, this is an eye-opening experience that can open new ways of looking at the natural world on which we depend. However, these are also the last hours of the salmons’ lives. They travel over 100 miles up rivers like the Nehalem, the Salmonberry, the Trask, and the Wilson to spawn where they hatched 3-5 years before, dying in the process of continuing their line.

Oregon coastal coho are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. 2014 saw a very good return, but ocean conditions and inadequately protected inland habitat remain concerns for these fish.  The Tillamook and Nehalem basins are producers of some of the strongest and most diverse wild runs of salmon in Oregon, but the emphasis given to industrial timber in the region threatens these strongholds.

Small ViewingOur publicly-owned north coast forests, the Tillamook & Clatsop State Forests, likely hold the key to salmon habitat in northwest Oregon. The management of these lands is currently undergoing a revision. Some stakeholders would like to see these lands managed with even more emphasis on timber production, a move that would likely harm wild salmon and take away the possibility of connecting with these fish.

Conservation: Visible & Durable

Clatsop Forest proposed clearcut (photo by Trygve Steen)
Clatsop Forest proposed clearcut (photo by Trygve Steen)

A parcel of forest only needs to be clearcut once to destroy most of its ecological value for decades and decades. On the other hand, conservation requires constant, long-term, robust protection. That is why, as the Board of Forestry writes a new plan for managing the Tillamook & Clatsop state forests, conservation commitments need to be real–long-lasting, appropriately managed, and mapped.

Current “High Value Conservation Areas,” which we fought hard for for several years, represent an important step forward for the Oregon Department of Forestry. Their designation (covering 140,000+ acres state-wide) has helped to frame the process that will result in a new Forest Management Plan. In part because of these new designations, the Board is strongly pursuing a “land allocation” approach, which will see a conservation zone, a timber-emphasis zone, and possibly other zones that, contrasting the current approach, do not move around the landscape. Governor Kitzhaber recently promoted this type of plan.

A land allocation approach has the potential to succeed in improving conservation. Clearly, a large portion of the landscape would need to fall into the conservation zone in order for wildlife habitat and clean water to be adequately protected. What’s even more important though, is how that allocation is managed and where it is. Current conservation areas are too often managed to produce some timber volume–heavily thinned or even clearcut. In the new plan, conservation areas need to be managed for conservation without any expectation of producing timber. That means forests, left largely untouched, intended to grow old and complex. Not wilderness, but wild.

Tillamook Forest Pic

Another crucial factor in the success of this approach is maps. Public awareness and transparency are of the utmost importance for conservation. Protected areas should not be moved and changed at the discretion of ODF staff on a yearly basis. These areas need to be on long-term, publicly available maps. Oregonians deserve to know where these areas are, and for the sake of healthy salmon runs, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestering old trees, and clean drinking water, these areas should be in the public eye and the public conscience.

Conservation does not work at the whims of political tides and timber projections. It requires durable and robust commitments for the foreseeable future.

Wilson River Swimming Hole - Banner

Board to explore a land allocation (zoned) approach to forest management

ODF Puts Forward FMP Proposals

The Oregon Board of Forestry continues to explore new Forest Management Plans that will both provide financial viability to the Department of Forestry and improve conservation outcomes on the Tillamook & Clatsop state forests. On September 29th, the Board weighed two options developed by ODF. A “Land Allocation” proposal suggests putting at least 30% of the forest into a conservation zone and managing other portions of the forest for different degrees of timber production. A “Landscape Management” proposal is similar to the current forest management plan, with various types of forest structure moved around the landscape over time. Either proposal has the potential to succeed or fail. There is room in each framework to improve conservation, but there is also the potential for harmful environmental outcomes. The latter proposal suggests sacrificing habitat in smaller forest districts, such as the Santiam.

Counties Won’t Play

The Trust Land Counties (CFTLC), which receive a significant portion of revenue from state forest timber harvests, rejected both proposals and did not offer alternatives. County representatives implied that they would not support any new plan that did not dramatically increase clearcut levels. The Counties’ unwillingness to meaningfully participate in the process does not bode well for a new plan being created.

Speaking against the Department working with federal scientists to negotiate a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), the CFTLC expounded on the “risk of an aging forest,” warning that, “as forest ages and begins to provide habitat for listed species, the ability to continue timber harvest may decline dramatically. ODF and the Board of Forestry must not let this situation develop on the Trust lands.” These forests are crucial to providing habitat for listed fish and wildlife. Efforts to prevent habitat from improving are misguided and show an alarmingly single-minded view of these forests simply as tree farms.

The Timber Industry Shows Its Colors

Dave Ivanoff, of Hampton Lumber, also objected to the pursuit of a Habitat Conservation Plan and warned ODF of the “perpetual issue of creating habitat.”

Forest Practices Act "stream buffer"
Forest Practices Act “stream buffer”

Mr. Ivanoff was “dismayed” by both ODF proposals, saying that the Land Allocation approach was a “departure” from what he envisioned: “From my selfish perspective I would request support of the 70/30 zoned approach the way I’ve offered it, based on the Forest Practices Act.” “I fundamentally believe that there is absolutely nothing wrong with [the industrial approach].” There is significant scientific literature on environmental problems caused by the FPA.

When asked why he came up with the 70/30 split, Mr. Ivanoff said that it was based on “what is the level of harvest that’s going to be needed to maintain the family-owned forest manufacturing sector in NW Oregon,” what is needed to “support our company’s needs, our competitors’ needs.” The harvest level “would come close to replacing that lost fiber that is no longer coming from Washington.” It’s clear that the timber industry’s calculations of what should be cut don’t consider the forests many values, but instead stem from their own needs.

Rex Storm, representing the Associated Oregon Loggers, urged the Board to curtail public input and not seek public approval when devising a new plan, stating that the timber industry and even the Board are more important stakeholders than the Oregonians who own these lands. The Board, of course, is supposed to manage these forests on behalf of all Oregonians. Ironically, Mr. Storm delivered his alarming message during the public comment period.

Conservation Improvements Needed

Buster Creek, Clatsop State Forest
Buster Creek, Clatsop State Forest

The North Coast State Forest Coalition urged the Board to move forward keeping conservation improvements in mind. In order to improve conservation outcomes, any plan would likely need to improve riparian buffers to provide adequate shade and wood delivery to streams, increase the amount of older forest on the landscape, reduce clearcutting on steep slopes, and decrease the forest road network, which currently is very expansive and can lead to sediment problems in streams. Both ODF proposals include expanding no-cut buffer zones on fish-bearing streams to 115 feet, reflecting current scientific literature that suggests little or no riparian management is best for stream health. 115 feet is a good start, but it is unclear that it is adequate. Non-fish bearing streams would benefit from a no-cut buffer of at least 75 feet. Current standards are much less protective.

The success of either plan hinges on balance, public input, and the best science available. Dollars cannot be the only driver determining the future of these forests. These lands have been over-logged and burnt. They are just beginning to recover, and their protection is crucial to Oregon’s economy and environment.

The Board Acts

The Board moved a motion to explore/pursue a land allocation proposal, but did not move any specifics such as those in the ODF proposal. Board members Gary Springer and Mike Rose, both employees of the forest products industry, voted for a zoned approach that sees much of the landscape treated like industrial timber land. Chair Tom Imeson followed the timber representatives’ vote. The only “no” vote to this proposal came from Sybil Ackerman-Munson, who was rightfully doubtful that a zoned approach would work without any cooperation from the Trust Counties.

ODF will now move forward exploring a zoned approach, but without any sideboards for conservation and with the Counties refusing to enter dialogue, it is doubtful that a good plan will come to fruition.

Late Summer in our State Forest

Fish 2Late summer is a magical time in the Tillamook & Clatsop Forests. Refreshing swimming holes provide families fun relief from the heat; spring chinook and summer steelhead head up the north coast rivers and streams, offering anglers the opportunity for iconic pursuit; and hikers rejoice on trails to University Falls, up Kings Mountain, and along the Wilson River. Mountain bikers are found throughout the forest. Hunters gear up for the Fall deer season.

These yearly rituals are all the products of forests that are hanging in the balance. The Board of Forestry is in the process of writing a new Forest Management Plan. In early September, the Board will receive science reviews indicating the best way forward. We are hopeful that the best available science will guide the Board towards a plan that protects fish & wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, and abundant recreation opportunities. Along with good science, it will be crucial that the public weighs-in over the next few months, explaining to the Board what we value on these lands. Sign up for our email list to receive important action alerts!

In the meantime, here are some good ways to be involved in the future of these forests:

  • The Salmonberry Corridor Coalition is group of public and private partners (including OregonParks and the Oregon Department of Forestry) that is working to develop a new trail through the Tillamook State Forest along the old Salmonberry Railroad. We and our state forest protection partners (Northwest Steelheaders Association, Northwest Guides & Anglers Association, Trout Unlimited, and the Wild Salmon Center) think it’s a terrific vision with great promise. It would be a tremendous boost to the region and would improve recreation opportunities on Oregon‘s north coast. But it has to be done in a way that does not harm the Salmonberry River and its iconic steelhead run. Click here to share your comments in support of a primitive trail through the Salmonberry canyon!
  • SkyhawkTrygve Steen is a professor of Forest Ecology, Environmental Sustainability, and Photography at Portland State University. Trygve has joined several North Coast State Forest Coalition outings, generously contributing his contagious energy and knowledge of our forest landscapes. On Thursday September 18th, Trygve will be sharing his thoughts on Forest Ecology and Photography  at the Sierra Club’s monthly program night. This evening should prove to be a fascinating and beautiful introduction to forest ecology and the numerous ways that forest management impacts us. Click here for more details!

Governor Praises State Forest Conservation

Governor Kitzhaber with members of the North Coast State Forest Coalition in the Gales Creek Conservation Ares
Governor Kitzhaber with members of the North Coast State Forest Coalition in the Gales Creek Conservation Area

On June 2nd, Governor Kitzhaber toured the Gales Creek area in the Tillamook State Forest. The Creek, which is surrounded by buffers newly classified as High Value Conservation Areas, is also home to several recent stream restoration projects. Oregon Department of Forestry staff and partner groups lauded the stream enhancement work, which includes extensive log placement to improve fish passage and habitat, but the star of the tour was the Conservation Area:

Conservation areas are a critical component of healthy, well-managed public forests,” said Governor Kitzhaber. “They support our great coastal salmon runs and produce diverse wildlife and plant habitat. They provide clean water, carbon storage, and recreation values that are hard to replace elsewhere. I’m inspired and encouraged to see the Department, the Board of Forestry, and stakeholders working hard to sustainably manage and conserve these important areas for Oregonians.

There are now over 140,000 acres of High Value Conservation Areas designated across Oregon’s 800,000 acres of State Forest land. Over 100,000 acres are in the Tillamook & Clatsop State Forests, where forest health is crucial to providing habitat for coho salmon, marbled murrelets, steelhead, northern spotted owls, chinook salmon, red tree voles, and numerous other species. These lands also provide clean drinking water for over 400,000 Oregonians along with diverse recreation opportunities to coastal and Portland metro residents alike.

The Governor emphasized that the best available science would be used to inform the management of these lands and that carbon sequestration is an important role for these forests going forward. The ongoing balanced management of these heavily-logged lands remains a challenge, but the Governor expressed optimism: “We are using the best available science and strong community partnerships to grow healthy forests and guarantee their benefits reach our children and beyond.”

Still, despite the Governor’s leadership in creating these unprecedented Conservation Areas, the future of these lands is in doubt. Sawmill owners and some county commissioners have proposed that the lands be harvested as though they were private industrial timber lands. As the Board of Forestry writes a new plan to manage these forests, we will work hard to ensure that the best available science and public interest are at the forefront of the conversation.

Ian Fergusson of NW Steelheaders taking a break from the tour to do what he does best: look for fish!
Ian Fergusson of NW Steelheaders taking a break from the tour to do what he does best: look for fish!

To read the full press release, click here.

Seeking balance for the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests–clean drinking water, healthy fish & wildlife habitat, and abundant recreation opportunities